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Chief data officers: Bringing data management strategy to the C-suite

John Bottega admits he’s a bit of a clotheshorse. The guy likes a quality suit. Actually, he is a connoisseur of fine suits, their fit, their style, their durability. The sleeve on a quality suit, for example, is cut to show a glimpse of shirt cuff. Crumple the pant leg of a quality suit, and it should spring back into shape, pretty much wrinkle-free. In fact, it’s the raw materials used and the workmanship employed that define the quality of a suit, or lack thereof, Bottega explains. The best materials plus superb workmanship, combined with a disciplined manufacturing process, make for a high-class suit.

Bottega is not in the garment business. But he’s a suit CIOs might just want to pay attention to.

A keynote speaker at the MIT 2010 Information Quality Industry Symposium, Bottega is vice president and the chief data officer (CDO) for the markets group at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Before that, he was CDO at Citigroup, the first person in the financial services industry to hold that position, according to his bio.

His disquisition on suits was just one of several analogies he used in his talk on “Information Quality and the Financial Crisis.” Quality raw material is data captured at the source. Quality workmanship is determined by the skill set of the data stewards. A quality manufacturing process needs to follow best practices for collecting and maintaining data. A high-class data supply chain is all about getting the right information to the right people, at the right place, at the right time.

The talk was interesting — he’s a skilled speaker. Bottega also has some strong ideas about data quality, as reported in my story today on data governance programs.

But what really perked up my ears was his job description. As CDO at the New York Fed, Bottega is responsible for the bank’s data management strategy, which, again quoting the official bio, “encompasses business, governance and technology in order to establish a sustainable business data discipline and technology infrastructure.”

Whoa, Nelly. Ain’t that the CIO’s job?

“Completely different role,” Bottega said when I caught up with him after his talk. “The genesis of the chief data officer was to bring 100% focus on a content and business issue, coupled with technology. Technology has been focused for years and years and years on the pipes and the engine. Banks and businesses are realizing there is a whole business component to data.”

The data supply chain includes technology, acquisitions, procurements, compliance, legal. “If no one person were focusing on it, it would be kind of a patchwork,” Bottega said. “No one owned the whole end-to-end data supply chain.”

The thinking behind establishing a data management office is that data is a separate and standalone discipline supported by technology, Bottega said, and “can stand alone as a corporate function.”

Of course, CIOs are chief information officers, I felt compelled to point out. And as businesses move from an analog to a digital world, why are CIOs not equipped to take data management strategy on?

“If you go back to the origination of the role, the CIO or the CTO was focused on the machines. I heard someone describe it as the engine room versus being on the deck,” Bottega said. He quickly added that having a chief data management officer does not minimize the importance of technology, nor is it meant as an indictment of the CIO or CTO.

“But think about it: CIOs and CTOs have to focus on so many pieces. This is just taking a chunk of this discipline and saying that data has grown so relevant to efficient operations that, gee, we need somebody focusing 100% of their time on it.”

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